New Plymouth trainer John Wheeler has done his level best to ensure the Croatian flag flies proudly at Te Rapa today.
Wheeler will produce Fair Script in the Warren Storm Lifebrokers Waikato Steeples (4000m) and Yardstick in the Porritt Sand Waikato Hurdles (3200m), both jumpers carrying the colours of the Croatian flag for their owners, the Matijasevich family.
Fair Script was particularly impressive in winning the Ken & Roger Browne Memorial Steeplechase at Te Rapa a fortnight ago and Wheeler would love to claim another feature win for the family.
"They are good buggers and I'd love to win a big one for them," Wheeler said.
"They are great fun to train for. We've had some good ones over the years. Waltermitty won a New Zealand Cup and The Pooka was a good two-year-old and he won the 2000 Guineas, but never went on with it."
Wheeler has great faith in Fair Script, a jumper he reckons has become more resolute with age.
"It was an outstanding trial there the other day, though it was a bit of a surprise, to be fair," Wheeler said.
"He never works like a superstar, but the year before last he showed a lot of promise. He ran a lot of seconds and thirds last year then his form tapered.
"He's a really nice horse. He can be a bit soft if something goes wrong, but he's got tougher as he's got older and now as an eight-year-old he's becoming a more formidable racehorse."
Fair Script has won just three of his 51 starts and his win two weeks ago was his first as a steeplechaser.
But Wheeler is adamant the best is yet to come.
"The horse he beat, Palemo, came in pretty well at the weights last time, only giving 1kg to a maiden jumper, but we're in 3 kg better this time.
"I couldn't be happier with him. He's a big chance. He's now starting to live up to the potential he's always shown me."
Wheeler was less bullish with Waikato Hurdles hopeful Yardstick. "He's improved since the first day. That was his first jumps race for the year and will help him."
- NZ Racing Desk.